February 19. 2013 9:15PM

Wilton church could become community center

Union Leader Correspondent

WILTON - An old church may become a new space for town events if voters accept the offer of a free building that will be on the town warrant in March.

In 2010, the Diocese of Manchester closed the Sacred Heart Church on Maple Street, sending worshipers to churches in other towns in southern New Hampshire. The Diocese then offered the church to the town of Wilton, free of charge. But Selectman William Condra said the town was hesitant to take a building because it would require extensive renovations to be useful, and the board wasn't sure what its use would be.

A committee was formed to weigh the pros and cons of accepting the offer of the building and the rectory next door from the Diocese, to determine what purpose the church would serve and to decide where funding would come from. Condra said that over the course of two years, the committee considered these questions and ultimately came back to the board of selectmen recommending the church be accepted and used as a community center.

But while the board had the authority to simply accept the building, Condra said the selectmen wanted to know what the the public felt before making such a decision. Two petitioned warrant articles were added to the warrant.

The first gives the board authority to accept the church.

"The article doesn't bind the board to use the church as a community center," said Condra.

The building and the adjacent rectory could be used for any purpose the town required, including office space for town employees. But by getting a sense of the will of the people, the board feels more comfortable making the decision of whether to accept the church or not, he said.

The second article, in the amount of $1, is a place holder, Condra said. If the voters approve giving the board permission to accept the building, the amount in the second warrant article could be amended on the floor of town meeting to offset maintenance of the building, or even to fund the estimated $95,000 it would cost to install sprinklers and perform standard upkeep on the church.

"No matter what, we would have to spend some significant money before anyone could occupy that building," said Condra.

There's no smooth sailing ahead for the two warrant articles. While the board of selectmen voted to recommend them, the budget committee voted against recommending their passage.

"It all now rests in the hands of the voters," Condra said.